NAHA, Japan — The Japanese government will attempt to accelerate the construction of seawalls at the planned site of a controversial U.S. air base in Okinawa by delivering rocks by sea on Tuesday, government sources said Monday.
The decision will likely draw the further ire of local government, residents and environmental campaigners opposed to the relocation of the base to the coastal area near Henoko.
Ships delivering the rocks will dock alongside existing seawalls that are serving as a pier on the northern side of the area to be filled.
The materials will be used to construct a seawall on the southwestern side of the area, where work started early this month, according to the sources.
Under the Japan-U.S. plan, the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma airfield is expected to be relocated from the crowded residential area of Ginowan to the site in the less populated Henoko coastal area of Nago in the northern part of Okinawa’s main island.
The move adds to the ongoing controversy around the base as Okinawa hosts the bulk of U.S. military forces based in Japan and many locals want them moved out of the southern island prefecture altogether.
The Defense Ministry has insisted that transporting the materials by sea would reduce environmental impacts such as air pollution and noise.
But Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga, who is a vocal opponent of the base relocation, has criticized the central government as “dishonest” because he had not been briefed about the operation in previous opportunities.
The decision comes despite the local government’s administrative guidance asking the defense bureau to suspend transport of the materials by sea until a consensus had been reached.
The central and Okinawa governments are fighting a court battle after Onaga filed a fresh lawsuit in July, seeking a halt in construction at the Futenma base relocation site.
Tokyo and Washington agreed on the return of the land for the contentious base in 1996 and announced in 2006 a road map to realigning the U.S. military in Japan, which included relocating the airfield to Henoko.